2013 UPDATE: NHL Waiver Rules in Plain English

The NHL waiver rules manage to confuse everyone sooner or later, even the experts. So I took a stab at translating them. Here’s my version of Article 13 of the CBA, in plain English:


13.2 The “Playing Season Waiver Period”

The “Playing Season Waiver Period” (which I will call “waiver period”) begins 12 days before the start of the regular season and ends the day after a team’s season ends.

  • In September, 2012, the league and the NHLPA moved up the start of this period in order to allow teams to assign players to the AHL before the 9/15 lock-out date.
  • In January, 2013, when the new CBA was signed, the playing season waiver-period (re-) commenced immediately. (For more on what happened to players who signed AHL-only contracts during the lock-out, see this.)
  • Once the playing season waiver period commences, players who are not waiver-exempt (explained below) must pass through waivers before they are loaned to another team (e.g. their minor league affiliate).
  • A player may be loaned to a club of another league if (a) he’s already been through waivers during the current waiver period and (b) the Player has not played in 10 or more NHL Games since the last time he went through waivers, and (c) more than 30 days have not passed since the last time he went through waivers.
  • In other words, if a player just went through waivers within the last month and hasn’t played in many games, he’s not going to have to clear waivers again.

13.3 Re-Entry Waivers.

If you have to clear waivers to go down, you also have to clear waivers to go up. Under the 2013 CBA, re-entry waivers have been eliminated. They are gone. They don’t exist. Strike them from your consciousness.

13.4 Exempt Players.

When a player signs his first contract, he’s exempt from waivers for a certain period, the length of which depends on his age when he signed, and whether he is a skater or a goalie.

In general:

  • The rules are different for goalies and skaters (i.e. goalies compared to skaters) who sign at ages 18-22.
  • Goalies who sign at 18-22 get an extra year of exemption, compared to skaters.
  • Goalies who sign at 18-22 get fewer games played of exemption, compared to skaters.
  • The rules are the same for goalies and skaters who sign at age 23+.

Some definitions:

  • For skaters, “games” means games dressed.
  • For goalies, “games” means games played (i.e. games in which the goalie actually played in the game).
  • “NHL Games” includes regular season and playoff games.
  • A “year” of exemption means a playing season.
  • A player’s age is defined as the age he will be on his birthday in that calendar year. For example, if a player signs his first contract in May, and in June he turns 19, he is considered to be 19 “when he signed.”


Goalies Skaters
Age Years Games Years Games
18 6 80 5 160
19 5 80 4 160
20 4 80 3 160
21 4 60 3 80
22 4 60 3 70
23 3 60 3 60
24 2 60 2 60
25+ 1 1

The exemption ends immediately when [sociallocker id=”16181″] the player plays the number of NHL games indicated as his games exemption, or at the conclusion of the season indicated as his last year of exemption — whichever comes first.

For 18 or 19 year-olds who play in 11 NHL games: the exemption becomes three years for skaters, or four years for goalies, starting with the season the player plays his 11th game.

When a player 20 or older plays in his first professional game (i.e. NHL, AHL, or any other professional league game), the season in which that game is played counts as his first year of exemption.

(So, playing in an AHL game before you’re 20 — as many juniors players do after their juniors seasons end — doesn’t trigger anything.)

A player 25 or older who plays in one professional game is exempt for the remainder of that season only.

Some general examples:

A player who signs at 18,19 or 20 and jumps right into the league (e.g. Doughty, Clifford), playing full time, will see his exemption expire near the end of his second season, when he plays his 160th game.

A goalie in the same situation would lose his exemption after his 80th game.

If such a player is only playing about half-time in the NHL (e.g. Loktionov, Moller), his years exemption will run out before his games exemption. In the case of a skater, that means he will have his exemption for three or four seasons. Generally, such players will be exempt until they are 21 or 22.

Goalies get an extra year on top of that (e.g. Bernier)

A player who signs at 18, 19 or 20 and then plays out his juniors eligibility, going pro (NHL or AHL) at 20, is most likely not going to play 160 NHL games before his three year exemption expires. For such players, the clock starts ticking at 20 (when they play their first AHL — or, less likely, NHL — game) and their exemptions run out when they’re 23.

(By which I mean, at the conclusion of the season ending in the year in which they turned 23.)

A college player usually won’t play his first pro game until he’s at least 22, at which point he’ll get at most three years of exemption (if he goes to the AHL) and at least one year of exemption (if he jumps straight to the NHL). College players are for this reason usually the oldest to still have any exemption left.

College players who leave school early to turn pro resemble players who come from Canadian major junior, because they turn pro earlier, around age 20.

13.q What if this, what if that?

  • A player who is picked-up via waivers can’t be traded for the rest of that season, unless the player is first offered to the rest of the teams (if any) that put in a waiver claim on the player in the first place.
  • A player who is playing in Europe, not on loan from an NHL team, who wishes to return to the NHL after the start of the season, must first go through waivers (e.g. Nabokov), unless…
  • …when that player left the NHL his rights were still controlled by an NHL team and at the time he left he still had waiver exemption remaining (e.g. Radulov).
  • 2013 UPDATE to the preceding two bullet points: according to the 2013 CBA summary document, if the player is already signed by an NHL team when he goes to Europe, then he has to clear waivers when he returns. But if he’s unsigned (e.g. Ryan O’Reilly), then he doesn’t have to clear waivers. Such a player can sign with his team mid-season and return from Europe without having to go through waivers first.

  10 comments for “2013 UPDATE: NHL Waiver Rules in Plain English

  1. Kpaq
    March 20, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    I recall a time when a player cleared waivers the cap hit would be split by the two teams involved. Does this still apply. Komasarek for example, he’s a 4.5mil cap hit, would the Leafs take on half if someone else picks him up? I need clarification on this rule. Thanks.

    • March 20, 2013 at 10:32 PM

      You’re thinking of re-entry waivers, in which the salary of a claimed player would be split by the former team and the new team. However, re-entry waivers have been eliminated in the new CBA. So the team that claims the player gets the whole salary.

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